Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Dozen Delectable Chapter Books with Strong Girls and Women

I've made it a point to include just one book from each author. Then, if you like it, you know where to look for more gems.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
, by Avi. Charlotte Doyle goes aboard ship, and participates in a mutiny.

Tree Girl, by T.A. Barron. Fantasy. A girl lives at the edge of the sea with an old man, who warns her of the ghouls in the forest. Of course she ends up exploring...

The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman. A girl has slept in the dung heap to keep warm, and the midwife brings her home to do errands. Though she has no name and believes herself stupid, her caring and help bring her friends and wisdom. (I think I've loved everything by Karen Cushman. I also loved Catherine Called Birdy.)

A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer. 12 year-old Nhamo runs away in a stolen boat to avoid being forced to marry. The river she is on empties into a huge lake, where she overcomes huge challenges to survive.

Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher. A re-telling of Sheherazade.

Wise Child, by Monica Furlong. Set in Scotland in the middle ages, Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, who teaches her to read, to work with healing herbs, and even a bit of magic.

Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. Julie must leave her village in Alaska, and figures out how to live with the wolves. [I first heard this story read in a 6th grade classroom, when I was doing observations before my student teaching. I was distressed that teachers felt it was ok to read books in which girls are sexually molested, but none in which there is consensual sex. Julie's parents are gone, and the family she's living with has her marry their mentally limited son. He's teased into demanding sex. She runs away to avoid it.]

The Music of Dolphins, by Karen Hesse. An amazing story of a girl raised by dolphins, and then (sadly for her) found. I cried so hard.

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Ella is strong, her curse (to be obedient) is dangerous, her adventures are many. Marvelous re-spinning of Cinderella.

Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. By the author of the classic Pippi Longstocking. I like this one much better. The robbers live in mountain strongholds. Ronia befriends a boy from the rival robber band.

The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman. It’s 1872, Sally Lockhart is 16, an orphan, and caught up in the mystery of her father’s death. (Yes, this is the author of The Golden Compass. And I think the 4 Sally Lockhart books are better than the books in the His Dark Materials series.)

Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt. Dicey is about 12 when her mother walks into a mall and never comes back, leaving the 4 kids in the car. Dicey leads the others across Connecticut, and then further, looking for a home.

A Dozen Delectable Picture Books with Strong Girls and Women

I've written a bibliography of children's books. I'm going to post it here, one section at a time. I have another dozen books with strong girls and women, that I'll post later. Those are chapter books. Also, there will be more strong girls and women in the other sections, that focus on some other aspect of the book.

Hazel’s Amazing Mother
, by Rosemary Wells. A favorite among 5 year olds. Hazel (a hedgehog?) goes, with her doll in a stroller, to get some things for a picnic. She gets lost, encounters some bullies, and is saved by her amazing mother.

Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. Sal goes blueberry picking with her mother. The bears are also eating blueberries, and Sal and little bear follow each other’s mothers by mistake.

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer. Liza Lou’s mother sends her on errands through the swamp but warns her to be careful of the dangerous creatures. Liza Lou outsmarts them all.

Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia McKissak, ill. by Rachel Isadora. Flossie’s taking eggs to Miz Viola, and has been told to watch out for the fox. She outsmarts fox all the way there.

Trouble With Trolls, by Jan Brett. Treva plans to ski over the mountain with her dog. The trolls keep trying to steal her dog, and she keeps convincing them to take bits of her gear (hat, mittens, sweater, boots, skis) instead.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, ill. by Michael Martchenko. “Elizabeth was a beautiful princess….She was going to marry a prince named Ronald.” When a dragon burns down the castle and carries Ronald off, she follows the trail, outsmarts the dragon, and saves Ronald. But … [This one's a bit didactic. I'm going to look for a better one.]

The Old Woman Who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant, ill. by Kathryn Brown. The old woman has named her house, her car, her chair, and her bed. She has outlived all her friends, and only names things that will outlive her. Until a shy brown puppy begins to visit…

Agatha’s Feather Bed, by Carmen Deedy, ill. by Laura Seeley. Agatha spins yarn and weaves cloth, and sells it in a little shop between two skyscrapers in Manhattan. She explains to a young customer where cotton, silk, etc. come from. And then… Is she spinning a yarn?

The Wednesday Surprise, by Eve Bunting. A little girl and grandma are keeping a secret from the family. They’re practicing reading every Wednesday evening. Surprise ending for the reader, too.

Grandmother’s Pigeon, by Louise Erdrich, ill. by Jim LaMarche. Grandmother has sailed away on a porpoise, and now the eggs in one of the old nests in her room are hatching. But the birds that hatch are supposed to be extinct. Detailed, realistic pictures support the magical realism of the story.

The Princess and the Lord of the Night, by Emma Bull, ill. by Susan Gaber. A curse has been put on the princess – she must get everything she wants (or her parents will die). Amazingly, she has not become spoiled. Now she wants to end the curse. Adventures ensue. (A bit scary.)

The King’s Equal, by Katherine Paterson. The good king is dying, and his spoiled son will become king. The old king tells his son he will not wear the crown until he finds a woman to marry who is his equal in beauty, intelligence, and wealth.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I try to live simply, but I've gotten in a lot of bad habits over the past 6 years or so of living as a single parent. I drive too much, I've gone back to using the dryer instead of the clothes line, and I've been using ziploc bags daily for lunchbox sandwiches and snacks.

I will be on sabbatical from my community college teaching position for the next year, and I'd like to work on habits that are better for the planet.

1. I want to ride my bike as much as possible for transportation. Every time I ride my bike, I enjoy it, and I often see things I wouldn't have noticed if I'd been driving.

I rode my son to school today, and on the way home saw an older Asian couple picking up plums near the sidewalk, from a tree that had hundreds lying on the ground around it. I like seeing folks gleaning. (There's a great movie about that.)

2. I want to get a clothesline up and start using it again.

3. I have started using waxed paper bags instead of ziplocs. Yeay.

4. The books that say 50 simple ways to save the earth are lying. It won't be simple. I want to try to get involved in one way with making change on a bigger scale.

I've written a booklet about living simply. If anyone wants a copy, let me know.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

RT Means Re-Tweet - Yeah, you knew...

...but I just learned that today, while I followed the news out of Iran right on the Twitter site, here.

I've never used Twitter much. I signed up in April to follow Maria D, who was commenting on a conference we both attended (Great Circles). It was a great way to get her notes from all the talks we attended. Since then I've checked it out once or twice, but saw no reason to spend much time there.

This evening, Maria sent a chat message with the link above. I was amazed. My family laughs at me because I often don't know what's happening. I don't watch TV news (don't have a TV), and I don't read the daily papers. I didn't know when the Berlin Wall fell until weeks after it happened - I heard about it during a Thanksgiving dinner. There have been other equally big events that I learned about long after everyone else had tired of the discussion.

But this time I'll be able to tell them the news. And add to the depth, since of course the TV doesn't cover it in any real depth.

Here's a post by Robert Fisk, a veteran reporter on the Middle East.

And here's another blog post that talks about what young adults in America are learning about Iran from this.

One more and I'll sign off. This post is supposedly details about the vote count irregularities.

I haven't read any of these all the way through yet, and I'm not sure they're accurate (Fisk will be) or particularly good. But I got all 3 from the tweet stream, a first for me.


My prayers go out to the protesters. I was lying in bed imagining people all over the world holding hands through their cell phones, in support of the protesters. I was imagining guns that wouldn't work, police who couldn't shoot because their vision was clouded by tears in their eyes, and protesters not being noticed by police (just enough invisibility).

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tree Spirit

I wrote this poem years ago. I've hoped to get it published in an anthology on earth-based spirituality or something like that. But I haven't put much effort into making that happen. So here it is. Like it?

Tree Spirit (Spring 1992)

i dream of making love with a tree.
i'm not in this human body
nor any body formed of flesh.

the branches caress me,
we entwine, entangle

low clouds that turn to fog,
vine, snake, chipmunk
i am all creatures who love tree
i am dryad - spirit living within this old oak
in its bark and its cork
in its root hairs and its leaf buds
in its water-carrying veins
and the oxygen producing,
chlorophyll-and-sun-powered factories
of every single green leaf.

we are lovers,
my tree and i,
tickling one another
in the ways we each love best.

i wiggle her root hairs in the rich, dark earth
then squeeze her vessels upward,
making my tree giddy with life-pleasure.

my tree rustles her leaves,
oxygen and light swirling over me,
i am high, i am drunk, i am hers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Getting the News (Offline)

I don't read the daily papers, or subscribe to any news magazines. I don't follow the news daily on the web. I do listen to the news when I'm in the car. I listen to KPFA, a very progressive station, and my favorite show is Democracy Now, produced and hosted by Amy Goodman.

I also like the Guns and Butter show, which has pretty much convinced me that a number of conspiracy theories are most likely well-grounded.

I have one more favorite on KPFA, but I have to tell a story before I disclose it. When I got back to California in 2001, and was driving around a lot doing errands, I kept hearing an astrology show. I thought that didn't make sense for KPFA, and would impatiently switch over to a tape. One day, while waiting at DMV, I must not have had a tape in the car. Or some bit of the show just grabbed my ear. Caroline Casey has an amazing breadth of knowledge, and a lovely perspective on current events. And, although I still question why anyone intelligent would be drawn to astrology, I see her deep intelligence, and learn something new, just about every time I listen to this show. On KPFA's website, they say that "The Visionary Activist show is the wedding of spiritual magic and compassionate social activism." I like it.

I also subscribe to two magazines: Rethinking Schools and Yes! magazine.

Any recommendations for me, based on my predilections? (I've tried The Sun, In These Times, and the Nation, and didn't really care for any of them.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Doctor Killed for Supporting Women's Right to Choose

I heard this on the news today as I drove home, and had to write...

Doctor George Tiller was shot and killed while at church yesterday, presumably by an anti-abortion terrorist. Doctor Tiller provides late-term abortions, and so his clinic has been targeted by anti-abortion forces for years. There are only 3 clinics in the whole U.S. that will do late-term abortions, even though they are sometimes necessary to save a woman's life.

I understand that abortion is a tough issue. But the people who call themselves pro-life have just killed a man. It is not just the one man who pulled the trigger. He was helped along in this by all the people who are willing to harass clinic workers at their homes (parking a van with a huge picture of a mangled fetus across the street, going through their garbage, following them to restaurants)* and all the people whose rhetoric supports that.

I used to teach women's studies. As the teacher, I could have pointed out that abortion has happened throughout history, that many women die from illegal abortions, that the limited available of abortion hurts poor women most. But if I just did that, the students who felt strongly that it's wrong would have shut down. Instead we sat in a circle and told stories. I asked everyone to tell a story from their personal lives. We would all listen to one another. It worked.

They knew how strongly I felt, so I told a story about a woman I knew while I was in college, who intended to have an abortion, but at the last minute, already on the table, decided not to. How brave!

I think that story circle allowed for more aceeptance of different viewpoints, and more long-term change, than anything I could have said in defense of choice.

I ask anyone who has ever spoken up against women's right to abort to speak up against this crime, to grieve Dr. Tiller's death, and to seek out other anti-abortion activists and speak with them about how wrong this is. You who are against abortion undertand them better than I can. It is your job to stop them. Here is Frank Scheaffer on this issue.

Under the Yahoo story I read were 6 titles of 'related stories'. Half of them seem biased toward the anti-abortion forces, which is unsettling in the wake of this murder.

* Details from a Rolling Stone article.